The employment tribunal has finally put an end to Mr Seldon’s hopes of overturning his former firm’s mandatory retirement age for partners. At this final stage in the litigation, the only remaining issue for the tribunal to decide was whether the chosen age of 65 was a “proportionate” means of achieving two of the partnership’s aims, which had already been ruled legitimate.
The tribunal’s original decision in 2007 in the firm’s favour had been appealed with partial success by Mr Seldon to the EAT, and further appeals to the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court were dismissed. That left the order from the EAT remitting the case to the tribunal standing, with plenty of extra guidance from the higher appellate courts about how to approach things.
That background explains why the vast majority of the decision is taken up with analysing the law, with only the last few pages devoted to what we all really wanted to know – how the tribunal was going to deal with Mr Seldon’s particular case. Essentially the tribunal concluded that once it was accepted that aims of retaining staff and succession planning were legitimate, there was a narrow range of ages at which a compulsory retirement age could legitimately be fixed to achieve these aims. That involved a striking a balance between the needs of associates aspiring to partnership, the existing partners, and the firm as a whole.
A retirement age of 65 had been agreed by all the partners when signing the partnership deed, and the default retirement age for employees and the state pension age for men were both fixed at 65 at the point Mr Seldon was retired. That meant that while other ages within a narrow range could have been selected, the tribunal concluded that the chosen age of 65 was both appropriate and reasonably necessary to achieve the partnership’s legitimate aims.
This outcome was probably signalled from the point that the Supreme Court announced its decision last year. At that time it was felt that, while it left the door open for compulsory retirement to be justified, the particular facts of Seldon could not readily be read across into the wider workplace. This final decision from the employment tribunal has done little to change that assessment